Henry Kett.

Sermons preached before the University of Oxford, at St. Mary's, in the year MDCCXC .. online

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Bampton lectures


















church-yard; FLETCHER and COOKE, OXFORD; AND





Vice-Can. OxoN.

c. a a

May 1 6, 1 79 1.





My Lord,

THE fatisfadion, which I feel on being
permitted to dedicate the following
work to your Lordfliip, is greatly diminiihed
when I reflect upon its deficiency in every
point, which to perfons of your refined judg^
ment muft appear eflential to corredl and ele-
gant compofition. My fermons, therefore,
can have no ilronger claim to your patronage,
than that, which arifes from their connexion
with thofe facred ftudies, which amid the
mpfl important fcenes of adlive life, you have



ever found leifure to cultivate. When you
formerly prefided over that eminent Society,
whicb owes fo large a {hare of its prefent re-
putation and fplendour to your falutary infti-
tutions, your difcourfes from the pulpit were
admirably calculated, by the energetick fe-
rioufnefs of your delivery, and the judicious
feledion of your topicks, to confirm the Stu-
dents of Oxford in the genuine principles of
Chriftianity. Your writings have no lefs con-
tributed to the fame ufeful and honourable
cndj fince the Truftees of Warburton, as
well as the Society for the propagation of the
Gofpel, have happily afforded you an opportu-
nity of giving fimilar proofs of your pious

If, my Lord, other reafbns were wanting,
to induce me to make this publick addrefs,
I fliould notwithftanding think myfelf jufli-
fied in fheltering thefe earliefl fruits of my
ccclefiailical fliudies under your protedlion.
I contemplate in your Lordfhip's charadler
a flriking refemblance, both with refpecl: to



firmnefs of principles, aad zeal for the ho-
nour of religion, to thofe primitive Chriftians,
whofe condudl I have endeavoured to deli-
neate, and v^hofe virtues furnifhed the bright-
eft model for the imitation of fucceeding

I hare the honour to be.

My Lord,

Your mufl obedient.

And humble Sefvant;^


Exfra5i from the laji Will and I'ejlament of
the late Reverend ]OYi'^ BAMPTON,
Canon ^Salisbury,

** I dired and appoint, that the eight
** Divinity Ledure Sermons fhall be preach-
** ed upon either of the following fubje<5ls—
" to confirm and eftablifh the Chriftian Faith,
" and to confute all heretics and fchifmatics,
" upon the divine authority of the Holy Scrip-
** tures, ace."

T S.


Jeremiah VI. i6.

Sta?2d ye in the ways and fee, and ajk for the
old paths ; where is the good ivay f and walk
therein, and ye JJoall find reji for your fouls,

A Vindication of the writings of the Fathers
of the church in genera], and a Recommenda-
tion of the works of the earlieft Fathers in par-
ticular. Plan of the enfuing Sermons propofed.
The objed: of them to redify the mifrepre-
fentations of Mr. Gibbon and Dr. Prieftley,
with refped to the hillory of the primitive

S E R-



Mark XVI. 20.

And they went forth and preached every ivhere,
the Lord working with them, and confirming
the Word, with Jigns following.

The condu(5l of the primitive Chriftians
confidered with reference to the fix real caufes
of the firft general eftablifliment of Chrifti-
anity. I. The miraculous powers exercifed
by the Difciples and SuccelTors of the apoftles,
II. The Apologies of the firft Chriftians. Ill,
The zeal of the firft Mifiionaries.


Jeremiah I. 19.

'They JImII fight againfi thee, but they JJjall not
prevail againfi thee ; for I am with thee, faith
the Lord, to deliver thee,

IV. The Fortitude of the early Martyrs.
The different caufes to which that fortitude
may be attributed, and its immediate influence
on the Pagan world.

S E R-


6 E R M O N IV.

Ephesians v. 27*

A glorious Churchy not having fpot or ivrinkle^
or any Juch thing, but holy and ^vithgut

V. The Difcipllne of the primitive church,
with refpect to its internal regulations, and its
oppofition to herefy. VI. The Virtues of the
iirfl Chriftians. The combined EfFc<fts of the
foregoing caufes upon private manners and
publick inftitutions among the nations cpn^
verted to the faith.


Isaiah XLIII. 9.

Who among the people can declare this, and
JJjew us former things ? Let them brijig forth
their witneffes, that they may be jufifed: or
let them hear and fay. It is truth.

Obfervations on the charad:er of an Hiflo-
rian in general, applied to the Author of the
Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Par-
ticular review of fome ftriking mifreprefenta-
tions contained in his fifteenth and fixteenth

S E R.



JuDE, ver. 3.

'Eamejlly contend for the Faith which was once
delivered unto the Saints.

Remarks on the Hiftory of the Early Opi-
nions concerning Chrift, and an eflay towards
a refutation of its leading principles.

2 Timothy III. 15.
Alt Scripture is given by infpiration of God,

Evidences given by the earlieft Fathers of the
church to the books of the New Tellament,


Hebrews XII. i.

Wherefore feeing we are compajjed about with
fo great a Cloud of JVitneJfes, let us lay aftde
every Weight, and the Sin which doth fo
eafly befet us ; and let us run with Patience
the Race that is fet before us ; looking unta
Jefiis, the Author and Finifier of our Faith*

Recapitulation. Analogy between the pri-
mitive church and the church of England,
Prad;ical inferences.

I . S E R-



Jeremiah VI. i6.

IStand ye in the ways and fee y and ajk for the
old paths j where is the good way ^ and walk
therein^ and ye fhall find refi for your fouls,

THE Prophet, in the Verfes preceding
the text, reprefents in a ftrain of ani-
mated and ftriking defcription the fupine in-
difference of the Jews, not only to the divine
commandments, but to the temporal judg-
ments which had been the immediate confe-
quences of their impiety. Although they had
been favoured by the peculiar proted:ion of
tfee' Almighty, and convinced of his power
and goodnefs by his frequent interference to
ihield them from impending danger, and to
fcatter around them the bleflings of profperity,
their difobedience was unchecked by his awful
remonftrances, and their ftubbornefs was ob-
A durate

2 S E R M O N L

durate and incorrigible. Deluded by erroiir,
and enilaved by fin, they were alike forgetful
of the pure precepts of the law, and of the^
great examples of piety and obedience, which
the records of Ifrael held out to their obfer-

The advice of the Prophet was not lefs
adapted to the fpiritual wants of the Jews,
than calculated to difplay an intimate ac-
quaintance with the infirmities of human na-
ture. Man is ever averfe to that retrofpedlion
which carries with it a fenfe of his own mif-
condud: ; and in his eagernefs to grafp the
pleafures of the prefent moment, he liftens
not to the admonitions of paft experience.
Scorning the falutary ties of prefcription, he
miflakes novelty for excellence ; and refledls
not that in proportion as he differs from the
wife and the exemplary who have gone before
him, he may become profligate in fentiment
and degenerate in pradiife. The pride of opi-
nion weakens his reverence for departed virtue,
and abates his curiofity to ajkfor the old paths ^
which his Predeceffors trod, even when the
purfuit of their fleps would free him from the
tyranny of difordered paffions, and confirm the
principles of his wavering mind.


S E R M O N I. 3

At a period, diftinguifhed as the prefent is,
by an eager fpirit of inveftigation, it cannot be
thought improper, in humble conformity with
the advice contained in the text, to leave the
beaten fields of literary refearch, and to explore
thofe paths of Ecclefiaftical Learning, which are
too undefervedly neglected. While the greatefl
diligence is applied to every fubjedt which is
honoured with the name of antiquity ; he can-
not fairly be expofed to cenfure v/ho recom-
mends to general notice thofe objedls of fpe-
culation, which combine an inquiry into re-
mote times with the furvey of characters fo
renowned for piety and virtue, as the Fathers of
the Church. If his purfuit can in any degree
counterad; the violence of licentious opinions,
and check the progrefs of Infidelity, it cannot
be derided for being frivolous, or condemned
for being unprofitable. But if it fhould prove
an obje(5l of higher confequence, by fixing the
attention more fteadily upon the great flandard
of moral and religious duty, which is fet up in
the Gofpel of Chrifi: ; it may fairly be efteemed
the faithful guide to ufeful knowledge, and the
powerful auxiliary to true religion.

Whatever relates to thofe, who have par-
ticipated with us the common privileges of
Chriflianity, and made the befl ufe of its ad-
A 2 vantages.


vantages, for the enfichment of their undt^i'-
/landing, as well as the dire(5tion of their con-
duct ; is a fubjed: of curious and profitable
inquiry. Their characters and adHons com-
mand our reverence, and their fentiments fail
not to excite our curiofity. We naturally de-
fire to know what fenfe they annexed to the
icriptures ; what was their conviOion of the
divine origin of Chrifi:ianity ; and upon what
grounds they embraced the faith themfelves,
and recommended it to others.

OBjeclions rife in various forms to fi:op the
progrefs of thefe refearches. As much dili-
gence has ht^n employed in multiplying their
number, and augmenting their force : the fame
diligence may not be wholly unfuccefsful in
reducing them to their natural fize, and in
Shewing that they are very far from being in-
furmoun table.

The Fathers of the Church then, have been
reprefentcd as unfavourable to the cultivation
of rational and manly piety j becaufe we are
told, that in their writings occur the reveries
of fanaticifm, and the conjectures of vifionary

Now, as the ufe which ought to be made
of their works confifts in adhering to whatever


Is excellent, and difregarding whatever is fri-
volous ; no danger can be incurred by the ju-
dicious ftudent, if he fhould meet with fome
Scattered inftances of weak argument and un-
reftrained imagination. Since there is the
wideft difference between a blind and implicit
reverence for every work which is fandlioned
by the name of antiquity, and a feled:ion of
thofe parts of its genuine productions which
may be made conducive to folid improvement
and moral benefit. Such a line of difcrimina-
tion is univerfally marked out in all depart-
ments of literature and fcience to make them
produce the defired ends. To rejecft the ex-
politions of the fathers, when they rejed: the
obvious and rational interpretation of fcrip-
ture, is a valuable and unerring rule, and an
efFe<flual fecurity again ft being mifled. The
failings of a few, in a few inftances, ought not
to involve the works of all in indifcriminate
and uncandid condemnation. To abandon
them becaufe fome proofs of vifionary refine-
ment are to be found, is equally unreafonable
and unjuft, as to cenfure the ftudy of the He-
brew l?.nguage, on account of the forced con-
ftrudlions of Hutchinfon j or to relinquifh the
refearches of natural phiiofophy, on perufmg
ih& fanciful theories of Cartefius.

A 3 Moralifts


Moralifls obferve that due remarks on the
pernicious tendency of vitious indulgence may
contribute materially to the regulation of the
manners. Purfuing a fimilar train of reafon-
ing we maintain, that no fmall degree of intel-
led:ual improvement may be derived from con-
templating the progrefs of errour. For if wq
difcover the occafions on which great and en-
lightened minds have deviated from the paths
of right reafon into the mazes of falfhood, our
underflandings will be gradually weaned from
that implicit homage which we too fondly pay
to a favourite name, and we lliall become more
fcrupulous and circumfped: in the admiffion of
opinions which are not founded on the bails
of truth. The furvey of fuch deviations will
extinguifh, likewife, the petulance of dogma-
tifm, and the pride of conceit. He who ob-
ferves, that writers confpicuous for vivacity of
fancy, extent of learning, and acutenefs of
penetration have fome times been hurried into
weak conclufions, or mifled by trifling fpecu-
lations ; will advance with more deliberate and
cautious fteps in the progrefs of his inquiries ;
he will be more candid in his obfervations, and
more inclined to compafTionate than to cenfure
the infirmity of the human intelledt. When
in the courfe of his ftudies he remarks that a
great mind has in any inftance deferted the



didlates of fober reafon for the phantoms of
paradox, he will feel a fenfation of regret
limilar to that which is excited on feeing the
virtuous fall a facrifice to the allurements of
cafual temptation. Compreheniive knowledge
and fplendid talents afford no conftant fecurity
againft the delufions of fancy, and the wiles
of impoflure. Origen gave way to the moft
chimerical expofitions of fcripture, and Ter-
tullian embraced the prepofterous reveries of
Montanus. Thus as the great art of life con-
fifts in extrad:ing good out of evil ; fo even
from the imperfections of thefe writers may
be drawn thofe confiderations which encourage
Humility of mind, and are favourable to ge-
nuine Liberality of fentiment.

Confiderable learning united with much
critical {kill has been employed, in endeavour-
ing to expofe the Credulity of the fathers. It
has been urged that they have admitted many
Fad:s and Opinions to a place in their writings,
which were adopted upon infufficient grounds.

Upon an impartial examination of the paf-
fages, upon which this charge principally de-
pends for fupport, it will appear, that many
of the fuppofed errours arife from mifrepre-
fentation ; that many relate to trifling circum-
A 4 fiances.


fiances, many are difperfed among the fenti-
ments of individuals, and not among the tenets
of the church ; and have no relation v^hatever,
to publick principles of belief, or publick
terms of communion. How therefore thefe
peculiarities confpire to make them generally
unferviceable in the caufe of religion, it is
difficult to comprehend. If any attempts to
elevate the fathers to the high rank of the
apoftles, were made by their advocates -, if
they were affirmed to have been affifted by
infpiration -, or to have been endowed, above
the common lot of mankind, with infallibility ;
the objection would, doubtlefs, carry great
force againft fuch ambitious pretenfions. But
we contend only that they deferve our regard
as witnefTes of the opinions of their refped;ive
ages; as hiflorians of the facts which were
acceffible to their inquiries ; and as teachers
v/hofe piety and learning eminently diftin-
guifhed them from all their contemporaries.
Sharing the imperfed:ions of other writers,
they fairly claim the fame indulgence. The
faults imputed to them, ought frequently to
be imputed to the times in which they lived ;
when accuracy of refearch was often precluded
by numerous obftacles, and when ardent zeal
induced them to prefs every circumftance into
their fervice, which carried with it even the


S E R M O N I. 9

appearance of truth. If the plea of credulity
deferves to be admitted as a ground of rejedtion,
with equal or perhaps fuperiour force does it
operate againft fome of the moil celebrated
authors of Greece and Rome. But v/hile
judgment can difcern the probability of fad:s ;
while it can appretiate the credit of witnelles,
and difcriminate the gradations of evidence ;
the faults of hiftorians will be weighed againil
their excellencies, and fuch of them will un-
queflionably be entitled to high elleem whofe
veracity preponderates in the balance.

This charge, therefore, cannot in any de-
gree induce us to conclude, that becaufe they
admitted fome difputable fails with too much
precipitation, they therefore embraced Chrifti-
^nity itfelf upon infufficient grounds.

For fuppofing their credulity to have been
as exceffive as fome writers are willing to re-
prefent, whence arifes the probability that it
was the bails of their converlion ? Had
Chriftianity been a cunningly devifed fable,
calculated to delude the imagination, and lay-
ing no reftraints on the conduct, there would
be fome colour for the charge \ but faith in a
crucified Redeemer was not a merely fpeculative
point, which required no more than the paf-



five affent of the underilanding. It by no
means refembled an adherence to the Pagan
mythology, which charmed the fancy by the
beauty of its objeds, and even authorized the
moft depraved corruptions of the heart. The
Chriftian convert was obhged to turn afide
from the profpedt of worldly intereft, to oppofe
the tide of ridicule and perfecution, and to re-
commend himfelf to the church by a feries of
exertions the moft oppolite to his former pur-
fuits, and the moft painful to human nature.
His lincerity was called to the fevereft trial by
the aufterities of mortification, and by the
voluntary rejedion of fenfual pleafure. It was
his daily endeavour to corred: all his irregular
defires, and it was his fteadfaft refolve to for-
feit even life itfelf, rather than recant the
vows of baptifm, and bow before the altar of
idolatry. His faith therefore muft neceffarily
have been the refult of fober and ferious con-
viction, not of blind and headftrong credulity.
In the exercife of his belief he difcovered an
enlightened underftanding, which yielded a
ready allent to the evidences of revelation, and
followed the dictates of divine truth with
alacrity and gladnefs.

The deficiency of the Fathers v/ith refped:
to topicks of morality has likewife been much



mifreprefented. They have been charged with
deviating from the flandard of fcripture, and
with encouraging the fubtleties and evafions
of difingenuous cafuiilry. The accufation,
however, carries not with it even the flighted
plaufibihty, except when brought againfl one
Father in particular, whofe general fentiments
are far from juftifying fo vague a charge.
While their accufers cenfure the rules of con-
duct marked out by fome of the fathers, they
make the candid conceffion, that their cha-
rafters and acftions were eminent for piety and
virtue. This tribute of jufl applaufe furnifhes
us with a ftrong prefumption in favour of the
foundnefs of their infl:ru6tionsj lince it is
highly improbable, that theory fhould dege-
nerate into corruption, where prad'ife is con-
liftent with the rules of morality and religion.
As a deciiive argument in vindication of their
ethicks, it ought particularly to be obferved,
that the moft judicious modern writers upon
the fubjedt of Jurifprudence have derived in-
formation from them, and have gratefully ac-
knowledged the favour. The general prin-
ciples and particular fentiments of Chryfoftom
and of Bafil have given folidity of argument
and copioufnefs of illuftration to the celebrated
treatifes of Grotius and of rufendorf.



Even the Author whofe acute criticifms,
and original remarks have given the greatell:
force to his cenfures, has candidly acknow-
ledged that peculiar merit v^hich conilitutes
the flrongeft recommendation of the eccleliaf-
tical writers. " They abound in ftrong and
♦* folid proofs of the fundamental principles of
** Chriftianity, and they teach many excellent
** things which contribute to the clear under-
" ilanding of the fcriptures^ in which thefe
** myfteries are contained. In this refpedt,
" their authority is of great ufe, and may
** ferve as a probable argument of the truth."

A declaration fuch as this, is of no fmall
importance ; fmce it manifeftly points out the
great advantage of their tefljmony, by de-
ducing the fundamental principles of the faith
through their works. Thus they become emi-
nently ufeful by furnifhing a new and curious
illuftration of the fcriptures, and by fupplying
a fafe repofitory for the dodtriues of the

From the conceflions, therefore, of cen-
furers themfelves, may be drawn no fmall
degree of encouragem^ent to profecute eccle-
fiaftical ftudies, and to invefligate ths labours
of the wife, and good, who zealoufly efpoufmg


S E R M O N I. t^

the caufe of ChriHianity have written in its
vindication, and facrificed every worldly objed:
to its glory. In their works may be found
fpecimens of elegant Compofition to gratify
the tafte : interefting Fad:s to enlarge the circle
of knowledge; and Examples of piety to amend
the heart.

The reader of the fathers is convinced that
although the prize of literature is borne away
by the clafiical authors of Greece and Rome ;
yet iimilar beauties diftinguifh the compofi-
tion s which are the objecfls of his purfuit.
Neither the graces of fimplicity, nor the fplen-
dour of ornament were confined to Xenophon
and Plato, nor to Livy and Cicero ; for every
impartial critick will commend the pure flile
of Ladantius ; the rich imagery, and appofite
illuftrations of Theodoret; the clafiical flu-
ency of Minucius Felix; the uniform per-
fpicuity of Bafil ; the glowing eifufions of
Gregory of Nazianzum; and the exuberant
and attracting eloquence of Chryfofiiom, and

To conned the different provinces of lite-
rature by nev/ alfociations, is a pleafing and a
profitable talk. If fcience has aded as the
ufeful ally to theology, the learning of Greece



and Rome has the beft pretenfions to claim
the fame honourable employment in the fer-
vice of facred hiflory. The works of Poly-
bius, Livy and Diodorus Siculus, throw a
ftrong light upon the prophecies of Ifaiah and
Daniel. The relations of Suetonius, Tacitus,
and Pliny corroborate the evidence of the
gofpels, and illuftrate the early events of the
church. The fentiments of Plato are no lefs
ufeful in developing the principles of the an-
tient herefies -, and even from the iarcaftick
fallies of Lucian, and the illiberal reprefenta-
tions of Julian, may be derived confiderable
information refpedting the condud of their
chriftian contemporaries.

From the fathers we may learn with what
unremitting care the Holy Scriptures were pre-
ferved during fuccefiive ages. The quotations
which abound in their works furniih ftrong
and convincing proofs of the authenticity of the
prefent copies. By them vv^e are informed that
thefe fcriptures were zealoully appealed to and
confulted by writers who were unanimous
upon no other fubjed:. Their authenticity
was held to be indifputable. They were re-
peatedly made the arbiters of controverfy, and
the guides of faith and praftife. Hence alfo
we eftimate the veneration in w^hich they
9 were

S E R M O N I. 15

were held, and the vigilance with which they
were guarded. Hence we derive the moil
perfed: aiTurance and flrongell evidence that
they have efcaped unmutilated, and uncor-
rupted from the tumult of Controverfy, the
artifice of Fraud, the hoftility of Paganifm,
and the ravages of Time.

We may not only trace the progrefs of the
fcriptures until the ancient manufcripts which
now exifl, give the ilrongeft afiurance that no
fubfequent corruption took place -, but we
may remark likewife the various Revolutions
of the church. The profped: of primitive
chriflianity, in all its various ftates of depref-
fion and of triumph, is open to our view.
We behold it riling from the fhade of obfcu-
rity, oppofed in its advances to general ob-
fervation by formidable obftacles, and at length
eftablifliing an extenfive and fupreme dominion.

The celebrated work of Eufebius ftands
firfl as a regular hiftory, in the order both of
time and of excellence, to throw light upon
this interefting fubjed:. The variety and ori-
ginality of its contents, as well as the dili-

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Online LibraryHenry KettSermons preached before the University of Oxford, at St. Mary's, in the year MDCCXC .. → online text (page 1 of 18)